Turning Medical Dogma on Its Head: Nobel Prize Winner Barry Marshall, MBBS

Robert M. Centor, MD


October 04, 2005

In This Article

Letter to a First-Year Medical Student

Congratulations on being accepted into medical school! Now that you're here, I'm sure you feel a sense of uncertainty. You've probably heard stories about medical school that may have caused you some trepidation. You know that you have to study long hours and that you will be expected to learn more than seems humanly possible. You know that you will be subjected to numerous multiple-choice tests on basic science problems to prepare you for the first part of the USMLE.

I was in your shoes 34 years ago. I remember how it feels.

One of my favorite authors, Stephen R. Covey, wrote in his very famous book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, that each person should "begin" with an "end" in mind. I suspect that you decided to go to medical school with the end in mind of being an outstanding physician.

There will be many times during this year that you will wonder how all that you are learning relates to the act of being an outstanding physician. I admit that I often wondered that myself.

Now, I can tell you that you are learning many things that will be very important to you as a physician. You will learn the basics of biochemistry, cell biology, physiology, and anatomy. You will be tested on things that you will never use again, but you will also be tested on many things that will become part of your daily thought process in practice. Things that seem irrelevant now will become extremely important to you 5-10 years from now.

I predict that you will at times feel overwhelmed, because the magnitude of information presented to you is enormous. But believe me, by the end of this year, you will have a much better idea of what the human body is and how it works. You need this background to proceed to the second year, just as you need each subsequent year to proceed to the next.

I must warn you: This year will be difficult. You will get very tired of studying at times, and you'll get tired of taking multiple-choice tests, but you will finish the year knowing much more than when you began it.

You will also start to learn the skills of talking to patients and examining patients. Your initial experiences probably will be amateurish; accept that.

My advice to you is this: Work hard, find some time to enjoy yourself outside of medical school, maintain some hobbies, and stay in good physical condition.

The first year is very important, but it seems so very far away from your eventual goal. Think of it as the first hurdle in a 4-hurdle race.